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Fuller Disclosure Sought on Indirect Donations

July 17, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alarmed by record amounts of money spent on behalf of candidates in last year's city elections, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission voted Tuesday to require fuller disclosure of those indirect donations.

Those "astronomical" amounts were not spent to make the contributors feel good, commission President Miriam Krinsky said. "They were made in an attempt to influence decision-making."

The commission also asked elected officials to voluntarily abstain from voting on matters that involve people who have independently spent large amounts on their campaigns.

Under city election laws, campaign contributions are limited to $1,000 for mayoral contests and $500 for City Council races. But individuals, businesses, unions and political parties can spend an unlimited amount on an independent campaign to benefit a candidate, as long as they do not coordinate the effort with the candidate.

Last year, independent expenditures totaled a record $3.2 million, compared with $36.6 million spent by the candidates themselves from direct political contributions.

Laws now require that independent expenditures be disclosed. But they do not require disclosure of contacts between those supporters and the officials who benefit. Nor do they require disclosure when issues involving the backers come before those officials.

The commissioners recommended changing that. They proposed that the City Council pass an ordinance requiring anyone who spends $25,000 on an independent campaign in support of a council candidate, or $100,000 in a mayor's race, to disclose when a lobbyist for the spender contacts the elected official in the following 12 months or when an issue the spender is a party to comes up for a vote before the elected official.

"It will cast more of a public light on the relationships that exist by mandating disclosure," Krinsky said.

The commission also approved a resolution, which does not require council approval, urging elected city officials to avoid taking part in any decisions that they know involve those who contributed to independent campaigns on their behalf.

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